Saturday, October 17, 2009

Learning Often Takes a Backseat in English Class

As a teacher in a fact-to-face classroom, you will meet learners who are only nominally interested in learning English. They will come to class religiously, participate faithfully, and take notes earnestly, but their language ability may not improve. Here is why.

This is their time. They have left work, taken care of their families early, or otherwise prepared themselves and have generated enough motivation to carry tmemselves to your class. They are there for reasons that you may not be able to fathom, but it doesn't matter.

  • They may not learn anything.
Your learners may be with you every week for years and never make any progress. They may even lose language ability over time.
  • They are multidimensional beings.
These people may appear to be flat and dull, but they are each dramatic, multidimensional beings that happen to intersect at your class once a week at a certain time. You know next to nothing about what happens otherwise, and it doesn't matter, because you will be with them for the next hour.
  • They may dissappear without warning.
These ephemeral beings may decide to exit your time just as easily as they entered, and  you will never know why. The good news is that they may flit back into your class, again with no explanation. 
  • Your class is a social outlet in addition to what you are offering as a subject.
People come to your class initially to learn English. They end up creating relationships. We get them to talk about their lives, so they make connections with others. Some of them will take their relationships outside the classroom. They may want to include you in their plans. A few of them will connect in lasting ways. 
  • Some may actually pursue language.
As strange as it may seem after all of this, some will actualy pursue language learning and will include you in on their achievements and failures. They'll go abroad, take tests, apply for new jobs, and put themselves in positions where they have to use their language skills.

Learners will come to you initially because they want or need to be ale to communicate in English. It's hard work, but one thing that will keep them coming back is the relationlships they have made with others in the class.

Your relationship with these people is complex, not a simple giver/receiver arrangement. Enjoy the dynamic dance, the comings, the goings, the connecting and growth that comes with the learning in your class.

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